Archive for July 5th, 2008
Following the footsteps of Nelsons defeat

Admiral Nelson has gone down in history as England’s greatest naval hero, but he tasted defeat here in Tenerife on July 25 1797, and when coming ashore in Santa Cruz, his right elbow was shattered by fire from the Tiger canon.

Partly due to his reputation as a great naval commander, and partly due a very civilised surrender, Nelson is held in high esteem in Santa Cruz, you will find the road Calle Horacio Nelson near the old bull ring. The victory of the Santa Cruz defending forces is a great source of pride among the locals and a group called Tertulia Del 25 de Julio, have got the council to adopt their latest plan to commemorate the battle. By the 2009 anniversary, 14 stone plaques will be placed at various points of resistance along a 2 km route near the shore of the capital city.

Castillo de San Juan

Bateria SantiagoIt starts at the Castillo de San Juan (above) the small castle that stands in the shadow of the ultra modern, hook nosed  Auditorium. Some of the defensive positions have long since been built over, one plaque will be at a small side street beside the Cabildo (government) building, just past the Torre de Concepcion. One key point about to be re-discovered is the Castillo San Cristobal, the ruins are under the Plaza de España, and the public will soon be able to pop down and see them. The bateria de Santiago is one of the most visual points, just to the east of the ferry port, and is marked by an impressive statue at the junction of 2 main roads.

The route ends a little further east and inland, in Anaga, near the Military Museum of the Canary Islands. The museum is open from 10 am till 2 pm Tuesday to Saturday and entry is FREE. As well as more modern warfare history, it houses the famous Tigre canon that stopped Nelson in his tracks. If his comrades hadn’t staunched the blood flow with makeshift bandages, Nelson would have died very quickly rather than just lost his arm.

Military museum

in the museum they also have a large model layout of the Santa Cruz coast as Nelsons fleet attacked, and a commentary tells you how the battle unfolded. I found this very interesting as I bought a biography of Nelson on a recent trip to the UK. It was written by the poet laureate Robert Southey, a few years after Nelsons death. It was reassuring to see the commentary match the book version, not because I doubted the Canarian view of history, but because Southey comes across as totally in awe of Nelson, as many were, and talks about him in such glowing terms, I thought he might have made a few embellishments.

Tiger Canon

The surrender in Santa Cruz was pretty amazing, the British suffered 226 deaths and when posting his terms of surrender, Nelson stated that if they weren’t accepted, he would, with regret, burn Santa Cruz to the ground. The Spanish governor Jaun Antonio Gutierrez accepted the terms and his troops helped to ferry the wounded back to British ships, while Nelson swore that he would not trouble any of the Canary islands again. A stone carving of the agreement and busts of Nelson and Gutierrez are in a big glass display case down near the ferry port, but the glass is dirty and cracked and the monument neglected – is that any way to treat 2 men of such honour? There was a huge mutal respect between the 2 men, Nelson sent a barrel of beer to Gutierrez and the governor sent back some finest Canarian wine. It’s a myth that Nelson handed over a Scottish flag on surrender, and that it became the Tenerife flag, the saltyre cross refers more to St Andrew, who was also the saint of wine, you can find a Tenerife flag that pre dates the battle, in the military museum.

There are re-enactment events planned for July 25 in Santa Cruz, so look out for them and I will try to bring you further news of times and places.Â